Fascism is, as much as anything else, about the urge to attack, control or kill something on the outside because something sick on the inside has gone untreated. Tyrants themselves often possess this horrible flaw, or driven by opportunism, they seize on just such a disquiet in a people and exploit it for power and personal gain.
Brexit and, even more so, the political rise of the Lampanelli-Mussolini mashup Donald Trump, are not occurring under exactly the same backdrop that accompanied the rise of fascism in the 1930s, but that doesn’t mean key elements aren’t repeating themselves and won’t provoke a limit on liberties and undue suffering.
As Oxford historian his is a new fascism, or at least near-fascism,” warning that even if the contemporary brand of nationalism in the West doesn’t bring about World War III, it could very well make life a constant battle.
Historical circumstances, like individuals, are always unique and unrepeatable. The point of comparison is not to suggest that we are living though the 1930s redux. It is to recognise the very strong family resemblance in ideas shared by the early 20th century far right and its mimics today.
Discussion of fascism suffers from an excess of definition. That often, ironically, allows far-right groups and their apologists to disavow the label because of some tick-box characteristic which they can be said to lack. But just as we can usefully talk about socialism as a recognisable political tradition without assuming that all socialisms since the 1840s have been cut from one mould, so we can speak of a recognisably fascist style of politics in Europe, the US, Russia and elsewhere. It is united by its espousal of a set of core ideas.
The theatrical machismo, the man or woman “of the people” image, and the deliberately provocative, demagogic sloganeering that impatiently sweeps aside rational, evidence-based argument and the rule-bound negotiation of different perspectives – the substance of democracy, in other words – is only the outward form that this style of politics takes.
More important are its characteristic memes. Fascism brings a masculinist, xenophobic nationalism that claims to “put the people first” while turning them against one another. That is complemented by anti-cosmopolitanism and anti-intellectualism. It denounces global capitalism, blaming ordinary people’s woes on an alien “plutocracy” in a language that is both implicitly anti-Semitic and explicitly anti-immigrant, while offering no real alternative economics.•
Tags: James McDougall